Found Words/Written Words – The Social Network

I saw “The Social Network” with my sisters this afternoon.  I was very interested in seeing the movie in large part because “The Facebook”‘, and it’s burst into our culture, coincided with my college timeline.  There’s no question that its evolution shaped, in many ways, my late teens and early twenties.  I specifically remember transferring to a large state university and anxiously awaiting my “edu” email so that I could get on “The Facebook”, as at the time it was still a networking site aimed specifically at a certain colleges and universities, and my previous school was not yet listed.

For my peers and I, Facebook is now an integral part of our lives.  It’s how we share information, spread news, solidify friendships, and keep in touch or reconnect with old friends and classmates.  One thing I found particularly nostalgic was the frequent snapshots we got of the website throughout the movie, and seeing the evolution of it’s interface.  I found myself more than once thinking “Wow, I forgot it use to look like that”.

And while everyone involved in the production openly admit that the depiction in the movie of the events is not 100% accurate.  Hollywood certainly uses some artistic license throughout the movie.  The one thing that really stuck out to me, and Facebook founders agree this was accurate, is that even as late as 2005 Mark Zuckerberg and his “crew” didn’t really know what they had on their hands.  “We don’t know what it is yet, we know it’s cool, that’s about it” is the memorable quote from the movie.

I won’t get into a full blown movie review, I’m not a movie critique, and don’t have the attention span to write a summary.  But I strongly suggest anyone in their early to mid twenties especially take an afternoon to catch the film.

After getting home I “Googled” (and I fully expect a similar movie to come out soon about how a search engine became a phenomenon) reviews for the movie and found some interesting articles, this one in particular stuck with me.

“Human beings are more comfortable thinking in terms of people than in terms of technology. And a movie about a socially inept genius is certainly more interesting than a film about conferences where programmers present advances in social network software. But the focus on people leads us to overinvest in the rewards for individual innovation and underinvest in the intellectual commons that make those innovations possible.”

The idea being that the movie focuses on personal genius creating ideas, as opposed the environmental opportunities that give one the chance (for example Zuckerburg wasn’t necessarily any smarter or creative than a Harvard student from the early ’80’s, but a Harvard student in the ’80’s didn’t have the Internet to launch such creativity), that creativity and innovation piggyback on someone else’s creativity and innovation.

Umm, duh?

It’s a very good article, and I don’t particularly disagree with anything Ezra Klein writes in it.  Except that she seems to want to take the personal aspect out a person’s success.  That it really is a crap shoot, that as a person comes up with an “innovative idea”, there are dozens of people coming up with the same idea at the same time, and who profits off of it is somehow predetermined.  Yes we need better schools so that more people are set up for success, yes we need a system where people willing to invest in their education are saddled with what can be debt the size of a mortgage, so that their decisions aren’t based on making a student loan payment, but on how they can best utilize their talents.  But as a society, at least in the United States, we’re not quite there yet.  So while there is no doubt a bit of good luck (“luck” is when preparation meets opportunity),and timing involved with any individual’s success, not everyone capitalizes on those moments.

The article delves a little into the economy at the end and makes a GREAT point.  One which reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend several months ago when walking home from a pub:

“The average company spends 2.6 percent of its budget on research and development, and a National Science Foundation survey found that only 9 percent of companies reported a product innovation between 2006 and 2008. “You can’t be an innovative economy if only 9 percent of your companies are innovating”, economist Michael Mandel.

We NEED people like Zuckerburg.  Someone who comes up with something fresh and capitalizes it.  People that come up with new ideas that in turn create thousands of jobs, and spurn new ideas, and new jobs.  Some innovations save money, and make sense for businesses.  ATM’s are great, efficient, and convenient, but they also take jobs away from bank tellers.  “Self Check Out” at the grocery store is AWESOME, it’s quick, I don’t have to talk to a grumpy old man or a pimply faced high school kid, and the store no longer has to pay an irresponsible teenager to handle cash and make change.  I have no idea it’s efficient and improves the stores “bottom line”  But again, it eliminates jobs.

Facebook is not the solution to what is a complex, and scary, economic issue.  But people like it’s founders are.  The “ah Ha!” moment that “The Social Network” highlights  are often preceded by several “gotd@mnit!” moments.  But I think now more than ever we need people willing to get it wrong a few times before they get it right.

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